NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Federal Government Wants To Take More Land

September 13, 1999

The Clinton administration wants to establish a permanent purse to buy more privately owned U.S. real estate. Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have similar plans.

They would spend between $1 billion and $2.3 billion a year -- presumably into eternity -- to buy up private lands, even though the federal government already owns more than one-third of the land in the U.S. and states own another 12 percent. Supporters want to move the Land and Water Conservation Fund off-budget and guarantee that a certain amount would go to it each year. Thus, land purchases wouldn't have to compete for appropriations or be subjected to congressional oversight.

  • Critics say the initiative violates constitutional limits on federal land ownership and, although those restrictions were ignored in the last century, the erosion of limited government shouldn't be furthered by expanding federal real estate.
  • Every acre removed from private hands is one less acre in productive use
  • Moreover, local governments -- including police departments and school districts -- would lose vital property tax revenues.
  • While the leading bipartisan bill in Congress stipulates that all purchases come from "willing" sellers, the federal government has a history of finding ways to circumvent such restrictions when they stand in the way of its goal.

Finally, government is a poor steward of the lands it already manages. There is currently a backlog of between $8 billion and $12 billion in funding for maintenance, operations, restoration and fire management of the nation's public lands. Lands purchased under the proposed bills would become a drain on taxpayers for management and upkeep -- since only the initial purchase is covered by the fund.

Private forests and nature preserves contain more biodiversity, produce more forest regrowth and have cleaner streams -- all without using tax dollars.

Skeptics of these plans make this suggestion: Washington should pledge that there would be "no net loss of private property." This would allow the federal government to acquire lands where needed, while also promoting constitutionally limited government.

Source: Pete du Pont (National Center for Policy Analysis), "Government Land Grab," Washington Times, September 13, 1999.


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